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Writers Talks Get Dose of Reality

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LYNN ELBER | December 6, 2007 08:59 PM EST | AP

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LOS ANGELES — As wrangling over a new contract for striking Hollywood writers focused on digital media, other issues abruptly emerged as potential stumbling blocks.

Studio negotiators were surprised during talks Wednesday when the Writers Guild of America discussed unionizing reality shows and animation, a person familiar with the negotiations said Thursday.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers had thought those topics were off the table, according to the person, who requested anonymity because public comment was supposed to be limited to official statements.

The guild said Thursday that reality TV, for one, was never exempted from the discussions. It declined to comment further as the latest round of talks continued for a third consecutive day.

The alliance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Now in its fifth week, the strike has shut down production on dozens of prime-time and late-night shows, sending a number of programs into reruns.

Both sides struck unprecedented notes of optimism after Wednesday's talks. But the disagreement regarding reality writers signaled that thorny issues don't reside only in the virtual world of new media.

Residuals and jurisdiction for online streaming of TV shows and movies, along with other digital distribution, have been considered the heart of the contract dispute.

Reality and animation were not on the agenda laid out for resumption of talks on Nov. 26 when Bryan Lourd, a partner with Creative Artists Agency who has been an instrumental behind-the-scenes player, brought the two sides together, according to the person familiar with the talks.

Both sides agreed to address certain topics in an effort to settle the strike, which began Nov. 5, the person said.

But in a release regarding Wednesday's session, the union mentioned discussion of issues including jurisdiction for the Internet, reality TV, animation and basic cable.

The guild announced Thursday it would picket FremantleMedia North America, producer of "American Idol" and other reality fare, to call for improved conditions for those working on reality and game shows.

A call to FremantleMedia for comment was not immediately returned.

The guild has attempted to organize the producers and editors it argues actually "write" reality shows that operate outside the guild contract.

The union previously bumped heads with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees over dueling efforts to organize workers on "America's Next Top Model."